When you think of R&B music in the new millennium there is one man that automatically comes to mind â Bryan Michael Cox. Rising from Miami, Houston, and Atlanta, all places the songwriter, producer and artist can or has called home, Bryan Michael Cox has become one of the most pivotal and successful gems in not only R&B but in Hip Hop, Pop and Soul. Penning and producing hits for the likes of Usher, Amerie, Jagged Edge, Toni Braxton and even the late Aaliyah, Bryan Michael Cox sat down with Singersroom recently to discuss his journey and very bright future that includes stepping up to the mic.
Speaking candidly about relationships in the industry and several upcoming projects including Monica’s highly anticipated album “Lessons Learned,” R&B group Day26’s sophomore effort and a chance to give back to the community like never before, Bryan Michael Cox – B. Cox for short- dives into the business of “LOVEmusic.”
Singersroom: Things really picked up for you with R&B group Ideal in 1999; the year you received a credit on the hit single “Get Gone” (Ideal’s best charting single). Where were you when that happened and what was it like to have that record come out?
Bryan Michael Cox: I moved to Atlanta in 97′ and I was at a company called Noontime where I produced “Get Gone.” I started working with Jermaine Dupri right after I made the record and we were doing Jagged Edge’s “Jagged” (album) and watching videos on BET or something and the video came on and Jermaine was like “wow, who did that song? I like that” and I said I produced that song. He said “no you didn’t” and I said “yeah I did” and we went back and forth. For the next two weeks it was all on the radio. It was overwhelming and I didn’t quite understand how it worked. I didn’t really know that Virgin Records had a strong play on promotions like that so next thing I knew the record was in the top five on the R&B charts. Then it was number two and next thing I knew Jagged Edge’s single was up there.
It was like a domino effect. I had a lot of records stacked up that were ready to come out. Ideal came out. Jagged Edge came out when I was working with Jermaine and then Mariah, Usher and then I did Toni Braxton, Aaliyah…all of sudden all these records started coming out just back to back. It was like a whirlwind really. I wasn’t that prepared for it.
Singersroom: Having a hand in many heart felt ballads like “Burn,” “Since You’ve Been Gone,” “U Got It Bad” and “Walked Out of Heaven,” where would you say your inspiration comes from? How are you able to emphasize the story that needs to be told in less than five minutes?
Bryan Michael Cox: Most of the time the record comes from a conversation with the artist. Whether it is a conversation I need to have or they need to have. I would say writing a song is like therapy. You can look at any great songwriter, a lot of times their initial love for the art came from their own anguish or pain, for me that is where it starts. I like to get into the mind of the artist. When I’m working with an artist I sit down and ask them questions and from these conversations it takes off.
Singersroom: In today’s volatile and competitive market where every album seems to be a do-or-die situation, how do you deal with the pressure of being the producer that is responsible for making that hit….in some cases the record that saves or makes someone’s career?
Bryan Michael Cox: I don’t think about the pressure. I find that when you think too hard, you think wrong and that pressurizes the situation. I’m a God fearing man so I believe that all gifts come from him. Going into each session with the faith that through conversation, through us learning about each other these songs will happen.
I’m always trying to grow. I’m always looking to learn. That is the key. At the end of the day you have to be the person you are no matter how far, no matter how big you get, or how bright your star shines. You have to be in a constant state of learning and searching for new things. I think there are some producers who are too successful. When they reach a certain peak they don’t care anymore.
Singersroom: Speaking of learning and inspiration, which song or experience with an artist has been the most memorable for you in terms of it being fun or even life changing experience?
Bryan Michael Cox: I would say working with Aaliyah was extremely memorable. Not because she’s not here anymore but because Aaliyah was just so cool. She was laid back, she wasn’t tense. A lot of artists take it so serious. Aaliyah was just fun with it.
I worked with her around 2000. We were all young; me, her and Johnta (Austin) was really young, it was fun. It was youthful. We talked about a lot of things. I really learned a lot about her. Aaliyah always had something unique about her. Through those sessions I had a chance to learn about her and why she acted the way she acted and why she was so special.
After that of course Mariah is always great. Usher is always great. Mary is like my big sister; she’s beating me up in the studio (laughs). Mary and Monica they are my sisters to the point where I can’t even bring a girl around Monica without her giving her the third degree.
Singersroom: For aspiring producers what would you say is vital in terms of getting in the industry and staying there? What experiences have you gone through that others could avoid?
Bryan Michael Cox: First of all know who you are and know your development as a producer. What I mean by that is a lot of producers tout how hot they are and how they have the best thing,…”they are better than anybody else, they’ll blow your mind.” Once you set those expectations up so high I’m ready to hear the next Timbaland. When you start to hear that you think “he’s setting me up for the okie doke.” Know where you are in the development of being a producer.
You have to humble yourself. You have to know who you are. That’s the main thing. Everybody’s experience is different. Everybody’s careers will be different. I can’t look at Rodney (Jerkins), Timbaland’s or Polo’s (da Don) career and compare it to my career. Some people will be more successful than others. You have to be happy with who you are and where you are in the business.
Singersroom: Cool and networking is very important as well…
Bryan Michael Cox: Yes. You have to understand that when you network you have to provide a service. Through your networking think about the service you provide and what you can provide.
Singersroom: Now getting to your current projectsâ¦
Bryan Michael Cox: I’m executive producing Monica’s album, Amerie’s album, and Jennifer Lopez. I’m also working with a rap artist named Do Boy from Stone Mountain, GA and of course my number one goal is to give back the way that somebody gave to me so I did a publishing deal with Warner Chapel and I’m signing several songwriters and producers like Anna Clark and Kendrick Dean who you’ve seen on several credits with me. I’m really in the business of giving back.
Also I’m trying to fulfill my college professor dreams. I’ve developed a workshop with the School of Audio Engineering and I begin lecturing in January on everything from music production to the music business because I feel like the information is important. It’s important to give information back to people that really get it. I didn’t get a chance to get that when I was coming up.
Singersroom: Great I’ll be on the lookout for that. Speaking of Monica’s upcoming album, how did you approach that project especially with Monica sort of making a comeback?
Bryan Michael Cox: First I wanted to go with how she felt and what she wanted to say. Monica’s been through a lot. People know a little bit about her story but not really the full scope of it. My primary objective was to find out what it was that she wanted to talk about. Then from there create songs that fit with that. So we came up with a bunch of records. The name of the album is “Lessons Learned.” She wanted to talk about what she’s been through, her love life and the business; the ups and downs of it.
Singersroom: Back in the day Brandy and Monica were sort of the touted R&B/Pop queens, much like you have let’s say Rihanna and Beyonce today. Working with Monica, who now has children and a family life, was the experience of producing for her new album a challenge? In effect producing a more mature and more ‘real’, so to speak, selection that reflects her experiences with love, children, and heartbreak and so on?
Bryan Michael Cox: Monica, she’s a mother, a wife and all of that right now and she’s a young woman. She was really open. She didn’t want to make a “oh I’m married and I have to do this” type of album. She still wanted to make a young and fly album.
It didn’t seem challenging. The challenge was really the label for me. Dealing with the label, I never really deal with the labels on this kind of scale.
Singersroom: Was that because of the executive producing role as far as making sure everything is up to their standards?
Bryan Michael Cox: Yes. I love J Records. It’s just two visions clashing with an artist that’s so established. An artist they quite frankly established. So I’m coming in and trying to tell them what they should do with the artist that they’ve had. It’s been an interesting experience for me. I’ve learned a lot from Clive and I’ve learned a lot from this process.
Singersroom: Cool, you were behind a good portion of Day 26’s debut album, are you looking forward to working on their sophomore project?
Bryan Michael Cox: Without a shadow of a doubt. Me and Puff are talking about what the game plan is for the album. I was instrumental in picking the guys so I kind of feel like they’re my group too. I’m looking forward to coaching their sound; their new sound.
Singersroom: I had a chance to speak with Kandi Burruss earlier this year and we discussed songwriters and producers sort of stepping up to the mic. For example The-Dream, Sean Garrett and Ryan Leslie. How do you feel about that? Is it good for the industry in terms of giving songwriters and producers more shine than previously received?
Bryan Michael Cox: I think the producer/songwriter/singer has been part of the music business since back in the day. Think of Teddy Riley, Kasheef, D-Train, a producer/singer/songwriter was common in the 80s. Somewhere towards the mid 90s it wasn’t as common. There’s a resurgence of it and it’s incredible because we have something to say too.
A lot of us are or were performers in the beginning and chose to go the songwriter or the production route because it just was more lucrative. You make your money then you can pursue your real dream.
It’s funny because everybody’s making an album Johnta Austin’s making an album, Sean Garrett, Ryan Leslie is incredible; I think he’s a phenomenal talent. I think making an album is great for the game. It makes the artists step up their game. If all the producers started producing only for themselves there would be no artists. Like if you want Kanye (West) to produce a record for you now you gotta be on fire. Kanye made himself a superstar. In order to get a Kanye West beat he’s gotta respect you at this point.
Singersroom: Should we be on the lookout for a Bryan Michael Cox project in the future?
Bryan Michael Cox: I’m doing a record with this band called ‘State of Emergency.’ It was like a science project initially until I heard it was really good. I’m in the process of finishing it right now. It started out as a solo project but its grown into a band with D.Scantz who is an incredible producer in his own right, especially in the rock genre. I actually rely on his ears a lot both in the studio and on the road. I think it’ll be great.
In fact there is a song that you can get right now that I have on my Myspace page [myspace.com/therealbryanmichaelcox]. It’s a song called “All I Want Is You.”
Singersroom: At Singersroom we live by the motto “I Love R&B,” what do you love most about R&B?
I love it because it’s derived from love and God is love. That’s the greatest thing that I can say about R&B. The true essence of R&B is love. Whether you’re talking about love gains; love lost; or however you want to describe it, R&B fits whatever kind of emotion you’re going through. That’s what I appreciate the most about R&B. —— By: Interview By Njai Joszor